Stem cell treatment for knee osteoarthritis

By Mr Rahul Patel, consultant orthopaedic surgeonThe Knee Unit, at The Wellington Hospital 

As life expectancy increases, health professionals see more knee osteoarthritis. This chronic condition has a global disease burden equivalent to cardiac arrhythmias or end stage kidney disease and has a significant impact on the quality of life.

The increase in knee osteoarthritis means medical professionals are constantly trying to find the best treatment for their patients. Recently stem cell therapy has been become a ‘buzzword’ for knee osteoarthritis treatment and many of my patients have asked about its efficacy. To give the facts about stem cell treatment for knee osteoarthritis I have provided an overview of what the treatment is, how it is used and what the future looks like.

What is stem cell treatment?

Stem cell treatment uses the patient’s own cells with the aim to regenerate or repair injured, diseased or dysfunctional tissue.

In the case of knee osteoarthritis, stem cells (those specific to joint related problems are called mesenchymal stem cells) are harvested and then injected into the knee joint. It is hoped the cells will then regenerate the tissue that has deteriorated and can also influence the immune system and local hormone mediated systems, both of which in the case of osteoarthritis, are out of control. In theory, if this treatment is successful, patients can avoid having a knee replacement.

Are there any side effects?

To date there hasn’t been enough evidence to confirm the exact possible side effects of stem cell treatment for osteoarthritis however, it is possible that you may experience joint stiffness, swelling and pain at the injection site.

Why is this treatment not administered regularly?

Although stem cell research has been ongoing since the 1970s, and the use of stem cells has proven to be very promising in other areas of medicine, there are still only a handful of trials specific to knee osteoarthritis.

At present no study exists that determines that stem cell treatment can cure osteoarthritis nor delay or avoid the need for knee replacement surgery.

What does the future look like for stem cell treatment for osteoarthritis in the knee?

Due to the lack of high-level evidence for the use of stem cells to treat knee osteoarthritis, the treatment cannot be sanctioned unless patients are part of a robust, well monitored trial.

Once long-term studies have been executed we will be in a position to recommend widespread use and as I tell my patients now, if we had cracked it and were sure it was head and shoulders above any other treatment in every way, then we would be using it as there can be no doubt that prevention of osteoarthritis or reversal is better than current surgical options.

What treatments are available to help those suffering from knee osteoarthritis?

If you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the knee, you should see a specialist knee surgeon who can properly assess your condition and recommend a treatment plan right for you. Especially if you are experiencing the below symptoms:

  • swelling around the knee
  • stiffness in the knee
  • pain that increases when you move and are active
  • knee feels hot
  • creaking sound is heard when you move.

Popular treatment options for knee osteoarthritis include: corticosteroid injections, hyaluronic acid injections, PRP injections and joint supplements. These have varying results and patients with more severe osteoarthritis will need to have a knee replacement.

It is also important that sufferers manage their condition by taking regular non-impact exercise, losing weight to lessen the pressure on the knee joint, and taking pain killers when necessary.

To book an appointment with Mr Rahul Patel call 020 7483 5148.